All this talk about NuTrek got me thinking about old Trek and sci-fi in general – which, to be honest, I’m usually on the brink of doing at any given moment anyway, so…win-win.
Sci-fi has always been at its heart, a series of spiffed-up morality tales; an effort to explore and answer life’s BIG QUESTIONS: What is the nature of man? How far have we come? How far can we yet go? And in spite of our vast advances in technology, what part of ourselves remains thoroughly unevolved?
It makes perfect sense then, that sci-fi would be the genre that most accurately exposes the truth of “us.” Think about it – Man invents new technologies to (dis)solve life’s innate challenges. With those challenges met, what he does with the spare time he’s created and how he treats his fellow man when he no longer needs him, speaks volumes about his true nature.
So yeah, sci-fi’s a little rad.
Also telling of our nature is what we, as an audience, desire from our sci-fi.
Star Trek of old – I’m talking in the Shatner days – was all about exploring the evils of society through futuristic parables. Racism, fascism, greed, slavery…it was all touched upon in one way or another, albeit veiled (sometimes very, very thinly) in layers of prosthetics and polyester.
Even more intent on exploring the ethical and moral dilemmas of our time was Cpt. Picard’s crew from The Next Generation. In fact, TNG’s main appeal for a while was just watching Picard show off that big moral center of his. Like a peacock, he’d just strut around with it, exposing it right in front of everyone. The hussy.
For many years, this has been Trekkies’ secret weapon in the age-old battle of Wars vs. Trek, especially by the time the prequels rolled around. Whereas Star Trek was still about the failings, triumphs and potential of the human spirit, Star Wars had become about space ninjas.
But now we’ve entered an era where the two seem to be much more alike than ever before. Wrath of Khan, for instance, was about the fear of growing old and outliving one’s own relevance. Star Trek: Into Darkness, according to its ad campaign, appears to be about exploring one’s innate fear of piloting a spaceship through cramped spaces.
But the fact remains that TNG isn’t as popular as it once was, nor does it seem that its principled, moral debates hold much appeal to the iPod generation. But, hey, there’s a girl in her bra and panties in the NuTrek trailers, bro! Just like on the Internet!
I recently watched an episode of TNG called “The Measure of a Man” where a Starfleet scientist has arranged to disassemble Lt. Data against his will. This led to Picard acting as Data’s defense in a trial to ascertain whether Data was a sentient being or simply Starfleet property.
An aspect of the episode I forgot, however, was that Cmdr. Riker was forced to argue against Picard and attempt to prove that Data was indeed no more than a machine. It occurred to me that this was TNG’s version of that famous duel between Kirk and Spock in “Amok Time.”
So in 1967, when you pit a first officer against his captain, the result was a battle of brawn. This was the DNA of The Original Series. In 1989, when a first officer was forced to face off against his captain, it would be in a court of law. A battle of words and ideas. This was the DNA of The Next Generation. This was how far we had come.
So how far have we come in 2013? How far can we yet go? And in spite of our vast advances in digital imaging technology and storytelling, what part of ourselves remains thoroughly unevolved?
Maybe to answer that question, we need to ask another…
What part of our brain does today’s Star Trek appeal to? And what, if anything, does that say about today’s sensibilities? Is THAT something we can even answer?
Or is that mission best left to the next generation?